Biren Nanda, the High Commissioner of India in Australia, took his charge in Canberra in 2012, and has since then been diligently building ties between Australia and India.
Nanda joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1978, and his career includes periods as Head of the Division in the Ministry of External Affairs. He has served as a diplomat in Indian Missions in Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Washington, D.C. and Tokyo. He was the Consul General of India in Shanghai from 1996-2000 and Deputy Chief of Mission in the Embassy of India in Tokyo from 2000-2004.
Having a Punjabi background, Nanda hails from Delhi, and did his post graduation in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics.
He talks to Shveata Chandel Singh about experiencing different cultures, and most important, the Pravati Bharatiya Divas (PBD) convention to be held this November in Sydney.
Having taken over as High Commissioner of India in Sydney in July 2012, how do you view the challenges ahead of you?
India and Australia have established a number of institutional platforms including the Framework Dialogue of the Foreign Ministers, the Joint Ministerial Commission on Trade and Investment, the Defence Ministers Dialogue, the Australia-India Energy and Minerals Forum and the Ministerial Dialogue on Education.
If you look at science, technology, investments, skills etc, the relations are improving. Our Prime Ministers are meeting at least once a year to discuss issues, so many positive things are happening between the two countries.
There are many areas such as education, science and technology, where the ties between the two countries are being developed.
The number of the Indian students coming to Australia has declined in the past few years, mainly because they find it little difficult to find employment. What are your views on this scenario?
Australia is an important source of resources, destination for education, and partner in science and technology, defence and security.
The number of students coming to Australia for higher studies has decreased, and there are so many reasons for that. Education in Australia has become more expensive as the cost of the Australian dollar has increased compared to the Indian rupee.
This may have caused a slump in the number of vocational students coming in, but on the contrary, the number of students enrolling in post graduate and degree courses has increased. Some Australia universities are offering joint courses, so the education scenario is good overall.
UK and USA still have more students going there because their study relationship with India is older and because they offer more scholarships.
Tell us something about the bilateral relations between Australia and India.
India’s main exports to Australia are gems and jewellery, machinery and textiles, while our major imports are gold, coal, copper, crude and fertilizers. India’s main service exports to Australia are computer and information services and tourism. Australia’s main service exports are education, education-related services and tourism.
Indian investments in Australia are growing rapidly, and a number of major companies have invested in resources projects including Sterlite Industries, the Aditya Birla Group, Adanis and GVK Power and Infrastructure. Major Indian companies with a growing presence in the Australian market include Tata Power, Mahindras, Asian Paints, Reliance, NMDC, Infosys, TCS, HCL, State Bank of India, New India Assurance and IFFCO. Australian companies present in India include Telstra, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, MIM Holdings, Snowy Mountain Engineering Corporation, the Australian Wheat Board, P&O Australia, Clough Engineering, Lucent Technologies and ANZ Bank.
Efforts are being made to diversify and enhance our exports to Australia. The two countries are currently discussing a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CECA), which will provide greater market access to Indian exporters of goods and services.
How do you plan to further improve ties between India and Australia?
The scope of Australia’s relationship with India has increased in line with India’s rapid economic and strategic growth.
The Australian Trade Commission has embarked on a very focused sector-specific strategy to offer Australian technology, expertise and solutions to Indian businesses in the areas of resources, mining and energy, infrastructure, construction, film, media and entertainment, and retail. Water technology and space science are the newer areas being looked into.
What steps you envisage for cultural promotion?
We have 180,000 Indians going to Australia and 200000 Australians going to India, We have direct flights now.
In areas of cultural ties, we have Indian artists coming here in large numbers. There are so many Indian cultural shows happening in Australia. Besides this, there are so many artists settled here, who are running academies that promote Indian culture in the form of classical music and dance. There are people and organisations engaged in promoting Indian languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and other regional languages. SBS is broadcasting programmes in 11 languages. There are many community radios in regional languages, which help promote Indian culture.
Tell us a little more about PBD or Overseas Indians Day, which attempts to provide a platform for the Indian community in Australia and the Pacific, to contribute to the relationship between countries of the region and India.
We have formed a national committee in Australia, and asked the Counsels in the neighbouring countries to do the same. We have taken the advice of these committees in framing the programmes of PBD.
We considered the main points from everywhere. There is rich content in the program including bilateral relations, cultural and social issues, education, manufacturing, infrastructure, but along with that there is the sharing of experiences by Indian people. We have people flying in from various parts of the world.
We have renowned artists including the world famous Pt Shiv Kumar ji performing at PBD. Along with this we will have folk dances, which will be presented by different groups from different parts of Australia. Many classical artists are coming from different parts of Australia to perform. Besides this we will have lectures on Vedanta and Ayurveda. The focus is very much on the community.
I believe it is a good networking opportunity as people from different backgrounds will congregate under one roof.
We have selected speakers from the Indian community and from Australia in order to create an awareness of the community relationship and culture sharing between the two countries. We have ministers from Maharashtra, Kerala, and Bihar, and the Central Ministry such as Health minister from Maharashtra Suresh Shetty, and Minister for Rural Development, Planning and Economic Affairs, K C Joseph flying in to attend the PBD.
Is it true the PBD Sydney convention will host around 1000 delegates?
It depends on how the registration goes. We have delegations flying in from neighbouring countries, but till the registration is open, we cannot give the exact number of people who will be in attendance.
PBD is a self-funded event. So, what are the sources of revenue? How affordable will it be for people to attend the function?
The event has been subsidised through sponsorship. The early bird rate was $325, which if considered with three-day of meals, coffee breaks, and numerous sessions, is quite reasonable. The rate is now $425, with a few promotional offers.
Can you mention some NRI ventures that have come about as a result of PBDs?
There are so many programmes run by Ministry of Oversees Indian affairs, which are a result of past PBDs. The ‘Overseas Indian facilitation centre’ is also the result of PBD, then there is programme called ‘Roots’, which helps PIOs trace their roots, then there is a ‘Know India Programme’, which allows young adults to go to India and experience their culture and society.
The idea behind PBD is very clear — everyone cannot go to India, and PBD helps them get a glimpse of the culture they are originally from. It is a fantastic opportunity for networking, and people should not lose it.